Coping With The Emotional Response To Disaster

May 06,2024

Read Time 4 Minutes

If you’ve witnessed or been affected by a disaster, it’s normal to feel many strong emotions, from stress and fear to grief or anger. Being able to identify when you or a loved one is struggling and finding healthy ways to cope is an important part of disaster recovery.

Common Emotional Reactions


Following a disaster there may be a lot of extra responsibilities on your plate, like tending to physical injuries, doing damage assessments, or finding safe shelter. Managing those tasks, on top of feeling the stress of going through the disaster itself, can result in a range of emotional responses, including:


  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Sadness, depression, hyperactivity, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling powerless or numb
  • A lack of energy or feeling exhausted 
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Trouble concentrating or feeling confused
  • Headaches, stomachaches, or other body pains
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Nightmares and recurring thoughts about the event
  • Crying for no apparent reason


Emotional Recovery


Finding healthy ways to cope with your emotions after a disaster is important for your overall well-being moving forward. Review these tips for coping and see what may work for you:


  • Talk about the event. Getting your feelings out with someone you trust can help relieve stress.
  • Limit your intake of news images from the disaster. Seeing images and other details of the event on the news or social media may only increase your stress.
  • Take care of your body. Be sure to eat well, hydrate, and exercise when you can to help reduce the impact of stress on your body.
  • Find time for hobbies or social activities. It may seem like the last thing you should think about but if the situation allows, try engaging in activities you enjoy to help take your mind off the disaster and your stress.
  • Set priorities for your tasks. While there may be many things to do, people to call, or forms to fill out after a disaster, it’s important to prioritize. Take one thing at a time to keep from getting overwhelmed.


Helping Children Cope


A child’s emotional response to disaster will be different than an adult’s. Since their view of the world is smaller, they may have trouble putting what happened into perspective. They also tend to have less of an understanding of what happened, less experience coping with stressful situations, and more trouble communicating their feelings. 

During this time, it’s important to validate your child’s emotions, take steps to reassure them, and help them feel safe. Try some of these suggestions for helping kids cope:


  • Answer their questions honestly but in a way they can understand.
  • Talk openly about any changes to their routine or environment.
  • Give them space to talk freely about what they went through and their feelings.
  • Limit their exposure to any media coverage of the event.


With children, as with adults, if signs of emotional stress or behavior changes worsen or fail to improve after a couple weeks, reach out to a mental health professional for extra help.


Finding Help


If you need support, Anthem has resources available to help:


  • For those with an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through Anthem, you can find professional, confidential counseling for you and your household members, including a set number of visits per issue per year at no extra cost. To begin, log in at*
  • You can also take advantage of EAP services like financial advice, legal support, and help finding housing or childcare where you are.
  • To learn more about how your Anthem plan supports mental health, log in to or the Sydney℠ Health app or call the Member Services on your health plan ID card.




American Psychiatric Association: Coping After Disaster (September 2023):
Mental Health America: Coping With Disaster (accessed March 2024):
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Helping Your Child Cope with a Disaster (June 7, 2023):
American Red Cross: Recovering Emotionally After a Disaster (accessed March 2024):

* These services are specific to those with an EAP through Anthem or an Anthem health plan. Similar services may differ with other health insurers or EAP providers. 

Online counseling is not appropriate for all kinds of problems. If you are in crisis or have suicidal thoughts, it’s important that you seek help immediately. Please call 988 (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) and ask for help. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

EAP products are offered by Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc.

Sydney Health is offered through an arrangement with Carelon Digital Platforms, a separate company offering mobile application services on behalf of your health plan. 


1066533MUMENMUB 02/24